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This CNN Hero upcycles old computers to open new worlds for young Kenyans

From an early age, Cheboi realized that his family, along with others like him in their village, were stuck in the cycle that they were hopeless.

“He’s very hardworking, and I sleep hungry. I’m still being sent home for tuition. I’m still living in a flooded house,” said Cheboi, now 29. “Looking at the poverty at home, watching in the community and in the suffering, it became very clear that I had to do something. “

Cheboi attended college on a scholarship in the United States, worked other jobs to support his family, and discovered his passion for computer science. He honors computer literacy for his ability to find job opportunities and earn money to do what he wants. She knew she wanted to share it with her home community.

Today, she is giving 4,000 children the opportunity for a brighter future through her nonprofit, TechLit Africa. The organization, whose name is short for Technologically Literate Africa, uses recycled computers to build technology laboratories in schools in rural Kenya.

“I know the pain of poverty, and that’s why I feel so excited about it,” said Cheboi, a software engineer who divides his time between the U.S. and Kenya. “I’ve never forgotten how it felt to have my stomach tremble from hunger at night.”

In 2012, Cheboi received a full scholarship to Augustana College in Illinois and began his studies with virtually no computer experience. He wrote the papers and struggled to write them on a laptop. He said he didn’t feel comfortable using a computer until his junior year when he took the Java course required for his mathematics major.

“When I discovered computer science, I just loved it. I knew it was something I wanted to do as a career, and bring it to my community as well,” he said.

Cheboi transferred to the double major and earned a bachelor’s degree. However, he says that skills like touch typing that some don’t do is still a long learning curve for him. At some point after college, he had to practice for six months before he could pass a coding interview. This is a skill that is now a core part of the TechLit curriculum.

“I feel like I’ve become so overwhelmed seeing 7-year-olds touch-type, knowing that I knew how to touch-type less than five years ago,” he said. .

CNN Hero Nelly Cheboi

Cheboi got into businesses in his profession, and in 2018 he started accepting recycled computers from them. He started small, carrying Kenyan machines in check-on bags and handling customs and tax fees himself.

“At one point, I was carrying 44 computers, and I was paying more for luggage than I paid for an air ticket,” he said.

TechLit Africa is now partnering with freight and shipping companies to bring in donated computers to make them more cost efficient. The donated hardware is wiped, repaired and distributed to partner schools in rural Kenya, where students aged 4 to 12 receive daily classes and regular learning opportunities. on from professionals and acquire skills that will help improve their education and prepare them for future jobs.

“We have people with a specific skill that come in and just encourage kids (with) music production, video making, coding, personal marking,” Cheboi said. “They can go from doing a remote NASA education class to making music with our artists.”

Cheboi’s organization maintains online and onsite ownership of computers, provides tech support, software updates and troubleshooting. TechLit Africa is installing new customer operating systems aimed at children, and schools are being asked to pay a small fee for the services, which include TechLit faculty onsite from 8 am- 4pm.

The organization now serves 10 schools, and early next year, Cheboi hopes to partner with 100 more.

“My hope is that when the first TechLit kids graduate from high school, they’ll get a job online because they’ll know how to code, they’ll know how to do graphic design, they’ll know how to do marketing,” said Cheboi. “The world is your oyster if you’re educated. By bringing in resources, by bringing in these skills, we open up the world to them.”

Want to join? behold the TechLit Africa website and see how to help.
To donate to TechLit Africa via GoFundMe, click here

CNN’s Briana Duggan contributed to this report.

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